Jimmy Charles – “A Million to One”


Career summary on Jimmy Charles

Jimmy Charles is a former American R&B singer. Charles was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1942. After singing in choirs and eventually building a local reputation for his crying, wailing singing style, his enterprising uncle brought him to New York and to an amateur contest at the prestigious Apollo Theater. Charles, only 16 then, became the reigning champion for four straight weeks. Then Charles’ uncle brought him to seasoned singer/songwriter/arranger/producer Phil Medley, who was impressed with the young man’s singing. So he cut a demo with Charles singing a track called “A Million To One,” which caught the attention of Promo Record’s owner Bill Lashley. Lashley eventually signed Charles to his label, and released “A Million to One.” It went to the Top 10 pop chart in 1960. But his success proved to be short-lived. Charles’ follow-up “Age For Love” tanked on the chart. His other subsequent singles failed to attract further attention, and not long after that he faded out of sight.

From the church to the Apollo Theater

Rhythm & blues and soul singer Jimmy Charles was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1942 or 1943. Before he went into a professional and secular singing, Charles built a local reputation by wailing (yes, wailing musically that is) in church choirs and community events.

When Chalres was about sixteen years old, he was accompanied by his uncle to New York City, New York. Charles aspired to join the amateur contest at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. He was just there, along with his uncle, to try his luck at the Apollo. It came as a surprise, even to himself, that Charles eventually won the renowned amateur contest not only once, but four straight times.

The start of Jimmy Charles’ recording career

Encouraged by the Apollo victories, Charles’ uncle brought him to accomplished singer/songwriter/producer/music arranger Phil Medley. Medley was so impressed by Charles’ delivery and unique singing style that he wrote a song for him to sing, entitled “A Million to One.” Next, Medley then got Charles to sing in a demo recording, then the former shopped it to various labels.

Finally, Promo Records’ executive Bill Lashley got to hear the demo, which he really liked. Then he signed the teenaged Charles to a recording contract.

Jimmy Charles’ million selling hit with “A Million to One”

During the recording session, they re-did “A Million to One” with the female vocal group the Revellettes providing the back-up vocals for Charles. When it was released on Promo in 1960, it fast climbed up on the Billboard charts. “A Million to One” peaked at #5 on the pop singles chart and #8 on the R&B singles chart in that same year. The record also receive worldwide acclaim, from UK to Australia.

Alas, it ended so soon…

In late 1960 Charles released a follow-up to “A Million to One,” titled “Age for Love.” But unlike the first single, “Age for Love” only settled at its peak position at #47. It was also to be Charles’ last charting single. It is kind of sad to note that his career faded as fast as it started. Following singles (that included two Christmas singles) didn’t chart at all, and by that time Charles’ showbiz career had already finished. He went on to become one of the so-called “one-hit wonders” despite the second charting single.

Charles continued to tour occasionally, and still performs when his time permits. He presently resides in Texas.

Cover versions of “A Million to One”

Although Charles’ brush with showbusiness fame was short and fleeting, his song “A Million to One” otherwise stood the test of time. It has even been re-recorded by other artists such as Patti Austin, Five Stairsteps (whose version charted at #68 pop #28 R&B), Brian Hyland (#90 pop), Donny Osmond (#23 pop, #26 adult contemporary), Jermaine Jackson, J.R. Bailey, Selena and New Edition.

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